Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is one of the few crop species that originated in North America (most originated in the fertile crescent, Asia or South or Central America). It was probably a "camp follower" of several of the western native American tribes who domesticated the crop (possibly 1000 BC) and then carried it eastward and southward of North America. The first Europeans observed sunflower cultivated in many places from southern Canada to Mexico.
Sunflower was probably first introduced to Europe through Spain, and spread through Europe as a curiosity until it reached Russia where it was readily adapted. Selection for high oil in Russia began in 1860 and was largely responsible for increasing oil content from 28% to almost 50%. The high-oil lines from Russia were reintroduced into the U.S. after World War II, which rekindled interest in the crop.
Meg Moynihan, Principal Administrator
Minnesota Farm Opportunities
Ag Marketing & Development Division